Digital Pornotroping

Gendered Violence Online Symposium. The Cyberhate Project
Friday July 7, 2017
University of New South Wales
Sydney, Australia

Digital Pornotroping: Naming and Defining Anti-Black e-bile and Violent Online Misogynoir as a Form of Racialized, Sexualized, and Gendered Cyberhate

Presenter: Elonda Clay
Ph.D. candidate, V.U. University Amsterdam, Netherlands

Black women experience what queer Black scholar Moya Bailey has coined and described as misogynoir (specifically anti-Black misogyny as experienced intraracially and interracially by Black Women). Womanist blogger Trudy Hamilton of GradientLair.com, has further explained and expounded on the term misogynoir, noting that, Misogynoir impacts Black women because of misogyny and dehumanization through anti-Blackness.”

In this paper, I argue that while misogynoir as anti-black misogyny targeting Black women, same gender loving women, and transwomen occurs in multiple contexts in and through media, popular culture, and public discourses; when misogynoir is elevated to graphic sexual violence, threats and abuse online it manifests as a particular form of interracial gendered cyberhate that can be described as digital pornotroping. I revisit Hortense Spiller’s work Moma’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe and Alexander Weheliye’ s work, Habeas Viscus on the concept of pornotroping, connecting the digitizing of pornotroping to digital culture and Emma A. Jane’s later concepts of e-bile and gendered cyberhate, in order to develop and extend understandings of racialized e-bile and online vitriol as interracial digital sexual violence.

To gain a better understanding of how digital pornotroping colors black women’s online experiences, I examine actual examples of uncensored racialized and gendered cyberhate targeting Black women. This study examines digital pornotroping discourse through a textual analysis of several online sites/events: a sample of Twitter data from the Leslie Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos Twitter trolling event of 2016, corrosive death messages from user comments on the Youtube videos of U.S. Black female activists against police violence, and “mean memes” that targeted former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, and portrayed her as either an animal (monkey or ape), unfeminine, or as a transgendered male.

Although intraracial misogynoir (anti-Black misogyny among Blacks) and graphic sexual violence, threats, and abuse online is a phenomenon that has also increased and become more prevalent in recent years, it is not the primary focus of this paper and will be discussed in forthcoming works. Anti-Black misogyny online among women and men of African descent is reflective of complicity with rape culture, heteropatriarchy, homophobia and transphobia, and sexual violence against Black women and femmes within the contexts of black culture and black communities and informs certain constructions of black hypermasculinity as well as Black religious identities.

Digital pornotroping can be defined as online interracial sexual violence strategically deployed by perpetrators to reinforce white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy by injecting or performing colonial pornotrope scripts  in digital environments which involve discursive and communicative practices, digital imaging, technological skills, social networking sites, and multimodal practices. Pornotrope scripts include perceiving women of African descent as animalistic; always already sexually available with excessive, absent, or deviant sexualities; deserving and/or desiring brutal sexual/eroticized assault; ungendered – failed motherhood and fatherhood; desubjectified (reduced to mere flesh); inhuman, and marked for social death. Digital pornotroping represents many types of online actions and hate speech acts, including trolling, online harassment, cyberbullying, cyberstalking, gendered and racialized cyberhate, nonconsensual photos posted online, doxxing, graphic threats of sexual abuse and death, surveillance, hacking, shaming, fake posts/tweets on social media meant to inflame followers, and being targeted by alt-right/white supremacist groups for cyber attack or malicious cybercampaigns.

Digital pornotroping functions as an extension and migration of the historical racialized violence/gender/sexuality matrix from the project of modernity and the institution of Trans-Atlantic slavery into the postmodern virtual landscapes of cyberspace.  As a useful conceptual tool for analyzing the resurgence and reinvention of settler-colonial biopolitics and White supremacist racial and sexual logics, digital pornotroping assists us in examining the ways in which the racialized sexual violence and abuse online aims to harm its intended targets, while it simultaneously informs the construction of violent toxic white masculinity and femininity. Here the concept of “harm” includes reputation smearing, defamation, financial loss, professional life, physical safety, psychological and emotional harm, dignity, health, alienation from friends and family, and suppression/silencing of online personal expression.

These analyses are done with the intention of identifying strategies for intervention, subversion, responses to perpetrators, and most of all strategies for protection and healing for targeted women.

Sources

Bailey, Moya (14 March 2010). “They aren’t talking about me…”. The Crunk Feminist Collective. The Crunk Feminist Collective. [Web log] Retrieved February 16, 2017 from http://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/2010/03/14/they-arent-talking-about-me/

Bailey, M. (2014, April 27). More on the origin of misogynoir. Moyazb. [Web log]. Retrieved February 16, 2017 from http://moyazb.tumblr.com/search/misogynoir

Hamilton, Trudy. (2014, April 28). Explanation of misogynoir. Gradient Lair. [Web log]. Retrieved February 16, 2017 from http://www.gradientlair.com/post/84107309247/define-misogynoir-anti-blackmisogyny-moya-bailey-coined

Jane, Emma A. “Your a Ugly, Whorish, Slut” Understanding E-bile.Feminist Media Studies 14.4 (2014): 531-546.

Jane, Emma A. “‘Back to the kitchen, cunt’: speaking the unspeakable about online misogyny.” Continuum 28, no. 4 (2014): 558-570.

Pew Research Center, October 2014, “Online Harassment” Retrieved February 16, 2017 from http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/10/22/online-harassment/

Spillers, Hortense J. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics (1987): 65-81.

Weheliye, Alexander G. “Pornotropes.” Journal of Visual Culture 7, no. 1 (2008): 65-81.

Weheliye, Alexander. Habeas Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theories of the Human. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2014.

The Women’s Media Center. “Online Abuse 101.” The WMC Speech Project. [Website]. Retrieved February 16, 2017 from http://wmcspeechproject.com/online-abuse-101/

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